Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Wage, Wage Against the Dying of the Light

Barbara Ehrenreich spoke at UCSB last night, spinning a variation on her terrific book Nickel and Dimed--On (Not) Getting By in America. If you haven't read it, you should, as it makes it clear just how difficult, in every way, it is to survive as the working poor in this country that castigates its poor as lazy. Ehrenreich tried to make it as a waitress, hotel maid, maid for a cleaning service, nursing home care worker and Wal-Mart associate (fancy job title at rock bottom prices!), and found it was exhausting, challenging, impossible.

One of the most shocking moments, however, came in the Q&A when just-termed-out California Assemblymember Hannah-Beth Jackson, who is actually one of the good ones, asked the following: "In my last term I co-sponsored a bill to raise the minimum wage in California, and it was vetoed by the governor as anti-business and would lead to jobs leaving the state. How would you answer such arguments?"

You mean, the Dems put up legislation and don't know how to argue for it? Not one person in the Democratic caucus could think this one through? Ehrenreich wisely pointed out the great majority of minimum wage jobs can't be outsourced--the reason there's always a line at the In-n-Out drive thru is your burger gets made right there, and isn't shipped from Maylasia. It's even better in a state like California where tourism is a huge part of the economy, for that poor soul inside the Mickey Mouse costume who probably doesn't think of his or her job as the Happiest Place on Earth nonetheless has to be in Anaheim to do it.

I also wonder why Dems just can't take the high ground. Say to Arnold, "People cannot survive on the current minimum wage. An employee working full-time at the current minimum wage of $6.75 per hour would receive only $14,040 per year, from which social security and other taxes would be deducted. This is below the federal poverty level for a family of three and not nearly enough to lift them out of poverty. Not to mention a minimum wage earner would need 3.7 years of wages to buy just one Hummer. Are you saying minimum wage workers should live below the poverty level, monster SUV-less?"

Then today the Los Angeles Times tells us the chilling bad economic news that "for the first time in 14 years, the American workforce has in effect gotten an across-the-board pay cut." The story doesn't mention that the last time this happened, the president's name happened to be Bush, just like this time, but we'll (try to) ignore that.

"This is the first time that salaries have increased more slowly than prices since the 1990-91 recession. Though salary growth has been relatively sluggish since the 2001 downturn, inflation also had stayed relatively subdued until last year, when the consumer price index rose 2.7%. But wages rose only 2.5%.

"The effective 0.2-percentage-point erosion in workers' living standards occurred while the economy expanded at a healthy 4%, better than the 3% historical average."

There is excellent news for the economy, though!

"Meanwhile, corporate profits hit record highs as companies got more productivity out of workers while keeping pay increases down."

So it is good we're all poor. We ARE all poor, no?

So thank you Arnold and everyone else who fights against raising the minimum wage. We clearly don't understand economics enough to see how the majority of us barely getting by keeps the world running. And if we had more money we'd just waste it on something like a Hummer, anyway.


Anonymous amy said...

Don't forget that it takes 120 hours a week to afford a 2 bedroom apartment.

9:46 AM  
Blogger Lori said...

The minimum wage in Pennsylvania is still 5.15 per hour, which means a mother with an infant has to work almost five hours to earn enough money to buy a single can of infant formula.

10:18 AM  

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